Feb 2012 UPDATE:
Verizon billing misfeasance—just keeps getting worse
At the end of 2011, Verizon announced a bill-paying fee that would be charged even if payment is made on time and online. They did this to discourage individual monthly payments, pushing users, instead, to authorize debit from a checking account. To avoid the fee, users must grant Verizon carte blanche to dip into the till without a mechanism to authorize or restrict individual payments.
Although the proposal was not a ‘trial balloon’ (Verizon believed users wouldn’t mind paying for the privilege of paying!), they were met with overwhelming publicity and a scathing consumer reaction. The plan was scrapped within 48 hours.
But since the article appeared, many Wild Ducks were less concerned about Verizon’s fee schedule and more interested in the billing & support problems that plague Verizon TV and Internet, especially the wholesale inability to honor FIOS bundle promotions.
Billing integrity is abhorrent. I suspect an audit of 100 customer accounts would reveal errors in the invoices or ACH debits of every one. In my own account, Verizon made scores of credit adjustments, but only after hundreds of calls & complaints. Jump directly to the relevant section.
When I launched A Wild Duck, I promised myself that this humble soap box would never be used for a personal gripe or vendetta. So let me get this out up front: This is a personal gripe. It’s not about the Verizon decision to charge customers a fee to pay their bills (a decision that they announced and then retracted after just 48 hours). Well, it’s tangentially related, but at least it’s not specifically about that loony announcement.
The ISP and wireless behemoth that Americans just love to hate is technically superior in every sector they serve. The best cell phone network in North America. The best Internet Service in the world (many of us enjoy 100Mbps FIOS service in our homes). Incredible television choices at reasonable prices. All this technology and superb technicians when there is a problem. But wait!…
They keep gushing out fodder. This time, Verizon announced a $2 fee for any customer who pays their bill. Yes! A fee to pay bills by mail or even online – unless the customer consents to pre-authorized automatic debit.
The plan lasted for about 2 days. They retracted the goofy anti-customer measure when the Federal Trade Commission announced an investigation (Hey guys. It’s stupid, but it probably isn’t illegal) and when a grass roots backlash began from every corner of the country. In fact, during the waning hours of 2011, it was more like a tidal wave.
I won’t comment further on the idea of charging customers to pay bills. It’s so whacky that it defies comment. But let me explain why users might not wish to allow Verizon to transfer payments in the absence of active client participation..
What’s up with Verizon’s Billing & Support?
- Even after 4 years—Verizon has difficulty honoring offers & incentives
- Renewal leads to endless billing errors & deplorable customer service
- Verizon continues billing errors, even after agents identify the problem
- Hundreds of calls, dozens of letters, constant apologies; Errors persist
Verizon should be permanently barred from interacting with any bank account. The amounts they debit have absolutely no bearing on the service package contracted by their clients! At least if you require them to mail invoices, you have a chance to demand corrections before payment. (But good luck. It can take literally hundreds of calls and complaints).
To make matters worse, Verizon sacked their customer support staff years ago. The remaining peons have been stripped of authority and tools. They simply cannot solve problems, no matter how egregious! (This has been acknowledged to me by numerous telephone support specialists who wish that they had mechanisms to solve serious and blatantly obvious snafus. They can’t even elevate serious billing problems).
Case Study: Me!
I am an early adopter of direct debit payment (ACH & EFT). Since the 1980s, I have allowed a few vendors to debit my checking account for monthly services. This is how I pay for my mortgage, electric & gas bills, UPS package delivery, and other monthly services. I used to allow Verizon the same access to sweep their monthly service fee from my checking account. “Why not?” you ask. After all, It saves time, avoids late fees, and – as a diversified conglomerate – they can certainly keep their records straight. Right? Not on your life! For the past three years, I have blocked Verizon from dipping into my bank account. Instead, I use single payments for a practical reason…
Verizon has cut back on customer service to such an extent that they debit the wrong amount more frequently than the correct amount (no exaggeration!). In fact, in just 40 months, they have made more than 120 corrections to my bill and issued almost a dozen apologies. The problem is biggest with their FIOS and One Bill program (which folds in your VZ Wireless bill). They also have trouble with accurate billing for their “triple-play” bundles, especially if you choose a plan that aggregates your wireless phones.
I feel sorry for the Verizon customer who fails to regularly check their bank statement for EFT/ACH debits. With an almost complete lack of customer support, it sometimes takes legal threats (or waiting for service to be cut off) before getting Verizon to correct a litany of errors.
Why put up with such negligent customer service? It transcends misfeasance! One reason: Without question, Verizon serves up the best TV, Internet and wireless service in every market they serve. I freely acknowledge a terrific product suite. Cable TV companies and satellite services don’t even come close. Verizon never has a blackout or glitch, they replace equipment on demand, they don’t over-compress the TV signal and their FIOS speeds don’t degrade as neighbors jump on the bandwagon. In short, their “product-service” is terrific. But what about customer service?…
After 120 credits (and more than 150 phone calls to get them corrected), I finally had it! I called to disconnect service. Guess what? They lowered the price to keep my business. At first, I said “No.” I was really, really, really fed up. They didn’t just lower it once, but three times on the same call—a discount of more than $50 each month, a free DVR and a bump up to unlimited data on my smart phone. Even more surprising, they threw more senior and more professional resources at saving my business than ever offered in the past. They bent over backwards to retain my good will, and in the end, I capitulated… I accepted an outrageously grand offer.
And what happened after they created a new bundle price for me (confirmed in writing). You guessed it! The discount never stuck. Each month thereafter, I was billed the wrong amount. Did I complain? Yes. Every single month. I got profuse apologies (“up the Gazoo” as they say). Eventually, a telephone representative told me that there is simply no mechanism to automatically apply special “customer retention” offers. So she offered to apply the discount each month a few days after the regular invoice is generated. Mind you, a separate representative was manually crediting a “Triple Play” bundle discount because the company had no process for honoring a nationally advertised service packages that included wireless services.
On top of all this, their unified One Bill program was a month behind in showing credits and payments, so I never knew what to pay!
Does this method of manual intervention work? Sort of…about 1/3 of the time. The rest of the time, I must call (it takes 3 or 4 calls) and persuade the first few representatives that I am the beneficiary of a “customer retention” offer. Then, these jokers need to find the representative who made the rebate offer. Then, my call is mysteriously dropped, or – get this – a tin plated, middle manager picks up the line and tells me that the original employee acted without authority. Whoahh?! I reprint transcripts of everything and resend a few legal demand notices (8 times last year!). Eventually, the original rep calls me back. Another apology, retroactive credit, and another promise, and…
Does this sound like a company that has its act together? Is this a vendor to be trusted with the keys to your bank account? I think not, Toto! Against the advice of my own family, I have still remained a Verizon customer. Alas, it is difficult to give up terrific products (Wireless phones, TV, Internet and tethering) and of course, very significant concessions to keep my business. But I certainly wouldn’t put up with this, if it weren’t for a massive incentive: about $600 off of their discount bundle and that’s on top of advertised incentives.
Note to Verizon Stock Holders: Imagine how much more your company would earn if they didn’t have to give so much back to disgruntled customers. If I held equity in Verizon or Vodafone, I would demand an accounting of post-facto givebacks. I bet that you will find a universe of lost revenue.